By Adrienne Wald, Julie Kleber and Katie Cortes
As nurses who routinely see the negative health impacts of “dirty” transportation on our patients with asthma, other respiratory diseases and heart disease, we know we are in “code red” when it comes to the impacts that burning fossil fuels have on human health.
Dangerous local air pollutants that result from burning gasoline and diesel are already responsible for more than 2,000 hospital admissions for heart and lung problems and 6,000 emergency room visits for asthma per year in New York City alone.
For decades New York State has been an environmental leader. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new plan to get the state to 100 percent clean power by 2040 is thus an important milestone. But today, the largest source of climate pollution in our state is from transportation: cars, trucks and buses are responsible for 42 percent of the state’s carbon emissions.
Vehicle tailpipe emissions contribute to health problems across the state. According to the American Lung Association, eight of the most populous counties, including Erie, Westchester and Chautauqua, earned an “F” grade for ground-level ozone, which often results in a disproportionate health burden on low-income and communities of color. Patients with chronic diseases as well as the elderly, infants, children and pregnant women also experience the worst effects.
A recent analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that by investing in clean vehicles and clean vehicle fuels alone, New York State could avoid more than $6 billion in cumulative health costs and more than $41 billion in environmental damages by 2050. A feasible, modest reduction (10 percent) in pollutant concentrations could prevent more than 300 premature deaths, 200 hospital admissions and 600 emergency department visits.
While progress on clean air, clean water and clean energy has been stalled or worse at the federal level, New Yorkers are fortunate to have a governor who is forging ahead. The obvious next step is for the governor to take decisive action to reduce emissions from the transportation sector and improve health outcomes for millions of New Yorkers. Cuomo has a golden opportunity to cement his own climate leadership and join other mid-Atlantic and Northeast states in working together to slash harmful tailpipe pollution and shape our transportation future.
As the governor himself said in his 2019 State of the State address, “the time for talking is over. It is the time for doing.” The doing – the collaborative and innovative approaches required to reduce emissions from the transportation sector – cannot succeed absent Cuomo’s bold leadership.
The authors are members of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.